By Lennard Zinn
It couldn’t have been easier for Mario Cipollini. Instead of having to duke it out in another physical sprint like other flat stages have ended in, the Lion King was able to roll to an easy sprint win because of a crash behind him in the last corner.
While most of Italy is as up and down as a crumpled rug, over the millennia the mighty Po River has ground down every bit of topography in a crosswise swath where the country widens at the top of the boot. Consequently, stage nine, which ran northeast for 142km in the Po valley and crossed the river once, was flat as a pancake and certain to produce a sprint finish.
Indeed, the bunch was all together when it hit the town of Rovigo for a single 4.5km circuit, and the sprinters teams were at the front.
The first time under the finish banner, Jan Ullrich was stringing the field out at well over 50kph with four teammates in a row behind him. With two km left, the Saeco train came by and the remaining two Telekoms, Giovanni Lombardi and Danilo Hondo, swung to the right to cut in line. With one km to go, Lombardi was at the front with Hondo on his wheel, Cipollini followed, and Mobilvetta’s Alberto Ongarato squeezed in ahead of Hondo. Lombardi had pulled off by the time they entered the final turn with 500 meters left, but Alessio’s Endrio Leoni, in a great position right behind Cipollini to go for his first stage win, slid out on the wide, slick white stripes of a crosswalk. The following riders avoided going down, but the three ahead now had a yawning gap behind them. Cipollini looked back, realized what was going on and waited until 150 meters to jump to the left of Hondo. The German could not accelerate fast enough around Ongarato to stay ahead, but he did try and pinch Cipo against the left fence.
The Lion King has not exceeded160 career wins by being easily intimidated, though, and he squeezed through without hesitating for a single pedal stroke, raised his arms at the line and then crossed himself. His prayers for another stage win had been answered, and he has moved into sole possession of second place in career Giro wins with 32.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 9, Reggio Emilia to Rovigo, May 28.
1. Mario Cipollini (I), Saeco, 142km in 3:27:41 (41.023kph); 2. Danilo Hondo (G), Deutsche Telekom; 3. Andrej Hauptman (Slo), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola; 4. Alberto Ongarato (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini; 5. Guido Trenti (USA), Cantina Tollo-Acqua&Sapone; 6. Zoran Klemencic (Slo), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola; 7. Ivan Quaranta (I), Alexia; 8. Dmitri Konyshev (Rus), Fassa Bortolo; 9. Massimo Strazzer (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini; 10. Matteo Tosatto (I), Fassa Bortolo, all s.t.
Overall: 1. Frigo, 1641km in 42:14:55 (38.832kph); 2. Azevedo, at 0:03: 3. Olano, at 0:14; 4. Simoni, at 0:15; 5. Belli, at 0:19; 6. Hruska, at 0:30; 7. Camenzind, at 0:37; 8. Noé, at 0:44; 9. Figueras, at 0:45; 10. Osa, at 0:48; 11. Di Luca, at 0:48; 12. Garzelli, at 0:59; 13. Chaucchioli, at 0:59; 14. Gotti, at 1:04; 15. Pantani, at 1:11; 23. Rebellin, at 1:38; 34. Savoldelli, at 3:23; 67. Ullrich, at 23:37; 61. Perez, at 20:22; 132. Livingston, at 53:51.